Sub-project 4: Socio-economic thinking in the GDR

Socio-economic analysis at the crossroads of modernization under socialism

A comparison of East Germany and Poland

Team: Prof. Dr. Dagmara Jajesniak-Quast (EUV Frankfurt (Oder)), Prof. Dr. Anna Schwarz (EUV Frankfurt (Oder)), Prof.em. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Wagener (EUV Frankfurt (Oder)), Prof. Dr. Knut Richter (EUV Frankfurt (Oder), Staatl. Universität St. Petersburg), Prof. Dr. Udo Ludwig (IWH Halle, Universität Leipzig), Prof. Dr. Maciej Stefan Tymiński (Universität Warschau), Prof. Dr. Dr. Piotr Koryś (Universität Warschau), Prof. Dr. Till Düppe (Université du Québec à Montréal), Konrad Walerski (EUV Frankfurt (Oder))

Research questions and approach:

Modernization can be regarded as an evolutionary process of structural development which is open as to its result and cannot be determined in advance. This process is rather universal and the respective structures (urbanization, industrialization, post-industrialism) will assert themselves everywhere sooner or later. On the other hand, it describes a set of institutional organizations of which it is assumed that they further the process of structural development: democracy, the rule of law, the market economy, the welfare state, and mass consumption. Such is the western, liberal vision of modernization. The eastern, socialist concept also strives for general welfare, but organizationally relies on the dictatorship of the proletariat, the primacy of politics, and administrative central planning. This prompts the question of which factors we are to understand as being modernization inhibitors: deficits in the prevalence of democracy, the rule of law, market economics, and the welfare state or a deficit of differentiation, inclusion, and competition? This research asks: How did socio-economic thinking in East Germany and Poland reflect the challenges of modernization under socialism?

Socialist economics is the doctrine mandating various degrees of centralised planning based predominantly on state property rights. It implies decision making not by private entrepreneurs, but by administrative state personnel at all levels of the hierarchy. It furthermore implies economic coordination according to administrative rules and only in exceptional cases by the market-price mechanism. This raises the question of information. Plans were based on physical units, so called control cyphers, but prices were needed as well for informational purposes.  The motivation of economic agents cannot be enforced by competition; it also has to be administered by relying on loyalty and using mainly material stimulation.

Socialist social science is all about the functioning of such a system and its possible reforms or “perfection”. At least within the Soviet sphere of influence, the socialist market economy got no chance of reform, even if it may have played a role on the backstage of reform discussions. There is no doubt that ideological blinkers and political constraints have shaped scientific practice. It would be meaningless to analyse socialist economics outside the political, social, and cultural context, which may have been different in the individual socialist countries. The politics and sociology of science are central elements of the project.

The arguments for a Polish-German comparison range from ascertaining certain similarities between communist socio-economic doctrines to emphasizing the inherent values of particular economic and sociological ideas. The economic situations of Poland and East Germany after the war were quite different, East Germany being the most developed economy of the socialist camp, while Poland was and has remained far behind. The intellectual situation seems to have been opposed with eminent remigrants like Lange and Kalecki and original thinkers like Kotarbinski, Schaff, and Kolakowski in Poland. In East Germany, the best economists like Behrens and Kohlmey were repeatedly politically criticized and isolated. Due to the common system of planning, especially in its initially obligatory Stalinist form, economic problems were rather similar in both countries. Due to their different stages of development, each country had its own focus in the area of economic policy.

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